Learning Seventh Chords on Guitar

seventh chords on guitar

Learning seventh chords on guitar can add an exciting layer of variety to your chord progressions, but can also pose quite the challenge for beginners as they’re generally harder to voice than basic open chords.

Seventh chords can be defined as major triads with an added tone that is one-seventh above their root note. There are four primary categories of seventh chords:

Major Seventh

The Major Seventh chord produces an upbeat and celebratory sound, popularly used in jazz and pop music.

Imagine this chord as either a major triad with a major seventh added, or as the initial step up towards dominant chord from minor triad. Either way, its versatility and brightness make it a great chord to learn!

To form a major seventh chord, begin by beginning on the root note and gradually adding four half steps until reaching the major seventh note. From here, any necessary accidentals from your key signature of the root triad’s root may need to be added or you could create an extra-long snowperson by noting notes a major third, fifth, and seventh above it.

One way of creating a major seventh chord is to play a G major triad and add an F# above it, or by using the drop 3 voicings; these involve lowering the 3rd highest note from an open position chord by one octave.

Minor Seventh

Minor seventh chords on guitar are less frequently heard than major and dominant seventh chords, often sounding slightly dissonant and aren’t used as the basis of many songs – though you might encounter them in Brazilian samba or bossa nova pieces.

An minor seventh chord (Cm7) is formed using the same triad as its major seventh counterpart but with additional notes for minor third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh (1, 3, 5, 7). You can use either Dm7 shape with both notes lowered a half step to achieve this chord (Cm7, Em7).

This chord works great for jazz music and can add tension to chord progressions. Examples can be found in songs by Doobie Brothers such as Long Train Running or in Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer.

Dominant Seventh

When written as simply 7 in sheet music (for instance G7 or dom7), this indicates a dominant seventh chord. A dominant seventh chord consists of three major triads connected by flatted 7th scale degrees which create tension and dissonance; when combined with an interval known as Devil’s Interval this creates bluesy sounding chords.

Dominant seventh chords are frequently employed as V chords in progressions, providing tension-building notes before returning to the tonic chord. You can hear this technique used in popular hits by artists like Elvis such as “Heartbreak Hotel” or “That’s All Right”.

Similar to major and minor seventh chords, dominant sevenths also possess movable shapes which allow them to adapt to any key. This is due to each seven chord being composed of intervals which only change when an octave is added or subtracted from its composition.

Mixing Interval Qualities

Every time you combine notes together in either chords or solos, intervals are created. Understanding these intervals and their purposes gives you the power to improve your playing in many ways.

By adding a minor seventh note to a major triad, a dominant seventh chord can be created – often found in blues music – this will add an authentic blues sound and will strengthen your playing.

Another chord example is a minor seventh chord, which has an emotive quality. This chord can help create something with more of a melancholic vibe if you want something that sounds homesick or melancholy.